Eagles have their focus on Calhoun
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports editor
Ask W.S. Neal Blue Eagles football coach Shane Smothers his number one goal for this week and the answer will be to find a way to beat the Calhoun Tigers. Calhoun visits W.S. Neal Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a Class 3A Region 1 contest.
Perhaps an even bigger challenge for Smothers may be finding a way to keep his club from looking past Calhoun and ahead to upcoming games against Straughn next week and T.R. Miller the following week. Both of those games could decide the Class 3A Region 1 championship, playoff berths and playoff seeding.
While Friday's 35-12 win at Clarke County boosted W.S. Neal's record to 5-1 overall, 3-1 in region play, Calhoun dropped to 0-6 overall, 0-5 in region play after an 84-0 spanking at the hands of Pike County. The Tigers have been outscored 299-23 this season.
"Our focus is on Calhoun. If our players are talking about Straughn and T.R. Miller, they aren't doing it around me. Our goals for this week are to win and to get better," Smothers said. "When you're playing an 0-6 team and it's Homecoming, it's easy to look past somebody. At least on Monday, we had a crisp, sharp practice. I think our focus is where it needs to be."
A lesser challenge for Smothers and his team may be finding the W.S. Neal Field. The Blue Eagles have spent the last three weeks and four of their first six on the road. W.S. Neal is 4-0 on the road this season and 1-1 at home.
"I think our players take a lot of pride when they go on the road. They know how hard they have to work to defend their home turf and they know opposing teams have to work just as hard. It inspires them to work even harder," Smothers said.
Somehow the Blue Eagles notched a 23-point victory at Clarke County despite the fact they committed 20 penalties for 162 yards. In fact, W.S. Neal has been flagged 33 times for 277 yards in their last three weeks. One reason why the Blue Eagles have withstood those mistakes is their opponents have been flagged 34 times for 265 yards in those games.
"We've been lucky that our opponents have pretty much offset our penalties with a similar amount. A lot of our penalties have come on defense. At least they have usually been aggressive mistakes and I can live with that. However, if we keep committing penalties at this rate, it's going to beat us sooner or later," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles' defense forced five turnovers last week and they have forced 11 in their last three games. Ben Crane had an interception and a fumble recovery against the Bulldogs. Mario Daniel added an interception, while Dewayne Floyd and Kendreal Williams both had fumble recoveries.
"Our players really get after it in practice. Our coaching staff stresses for the players to go for the ball and get turnovers. We've had a lot of people make turnovers lately although Crane and Roc Herbert are probably the only ones with more than one turnover in the last three games," Smothers said.
Smothers said Calhoun does not run complicated offensive and defensive schemes.
"They try to keep things pretty simple. They play a four-man front on defense and a pro set on offense. Turnovers and penalties have really hurt them. They've also had trouble with their kicking game. However, I know their kids are still working hard and we have to be ready to play," Smothers said.